If your site sees a sudden drop in SEO results after an algorithm change, it's worthwhile to wait before panicking and making changes. Google updates have a history of dialing back changes and restoring some of the traffic to legitimate sites that produce quality content and use white hat techniques. In some cases your site can regain rankings on the next Google updates or even sooner. So there is reason to hold out hope at least initially when impacted by Google also updates.
A few months ago I published a blog on the March 19 algo update and how to react and respond.
Google Algorithm Has Historically Softened
Google has a history of updating their algorithm in order to soften some of the unintended impacts on quality sites. I can remember many Google updates where some high quality sites were negatively affected with algorithm changes and then recovered on the next update or sooner.
In the search industry this is known as "dialing back" the algorithm. This phrase has its origins from various statements from Google about how they were softening the impact.
There are many examples of statements from Google affirming that they are softening the Google updates impact (dialing it back). Here's an example from back in 2013 where Google's Matt Cutts states in a YouTube Video that they will be releasing a new version of their Panda algorithm that will soften the impact for high authority websites.
"We've also been looking at Panda and seeing if we can find some additional signals, and we think we got some, to help refine things for the sites that are kind of in the border zone, in the gray area a little bit.
And so if we can soften the effect a little bit for those sites that we believe have got some additional signals of quality, then that will help sites that might have previously been affected to some degree by Panda."
As you can see from the above quote, subsequent Google updates softened the impact of the Panda algorithm by adding some quality signals that helped Google understand that a site is high quality and should not be affected by the Panda algorithm.
What Are False Positives - Quality Sites Hit by Google Updates?
In the above example discussed by Matt Cutts, Google updates are adding signals of quality. Externally, it is seen as "dialing back" on the algorithm, which describes the effect of how Google updates revise an algorithm so that there are fewer false positives.
A false positive is the term for when high-quality site content is hit with an algorithm update. There are false positives in every algorithm update.
Google used to recalculate the ranking signals on a monthly basis to account for new web pages and pages that had changed.
The Google Dance in Google's Broad Core Update
The process of "updating" the data center algorithm changes took days. This resulted in a nail-biting period of time where search results fluctuate wildly. This instability was generally the process of rolling out the new search index to Google's worldwide data centers.
This is the origin of the phrase, Google Dance, a period during which search results are in a state of change, something that still happens today.
Wait. Your Site May Recover From Google Updates Soon
The advice for Google updates, both then and now, is to wait and not take action until they have settled.
If your site has been affected by Google updates, it's possible your site may recover within the first five days of an announced algorithm update.
Google Dance Ranking Flux
If your site recovers from Google updates within the first few days, the reason could be the Google Dance. That's why it's recommended to wait and not panic over Google updates. Fixing things can sometimes make algorithm changes worse. If your site is high quality then it may recover during the Google Dance.
Ranking Factors Dial-back
For some sites, it can take 10-15 days to recover rankings from Google updates because the updates dial back some of the weighting factors.
So if your site doesn't recover within the first few days, then there is still a window of ten to fifteen days where the Google updates might spot false positives and take action to soften the algorithm.
Why Do Some Sites Recover on the Next Update?
Google updates are tested internally before releasing them. That's what Google's external Quality Raters do. They are part of the testing process to check if new algorithms are working as intended.
Yet, no matter how much testing is done, some high quality sites lose rankings because of an algorithm change. Google will try to figure why the good pages lost rankings and in a broad core update, those false positives will regain their rankings.
Google updates do not fix the rankings of sites individually. When a quality site loses rankings, it's because of an unintended algorithm factor that is affecting many sites, not just the one site.
The solution to this Google updates issue, as Matt Cutts described in the video above, is created to scale in order to positively affect all the high quality sites that deserve to recover rank.
How to Know if Your Site is a False Positive During Google Update
There is no way to know for certain whether your site has suffered a ranking loss as a false positive. That's Google's information and only someone at Google can know.
However, in my experience with Google updates, there are clues that can help you understand if your site has suffered from the algorithm for a reason or is possibly a false positive.
Why a Site Loses Rankings: Percentage of Traffic is Lost
Sometimes a site may lose a percentage of traffic after Google updates. In my opinion there are two reasons to explain this. The first reason is that a site is suffering a ranking loss due to relevance issues. The site is still ranking, but not as well as it used to.
The second reason for a percentage loss after Google updates could be associated with a technical issue related to links or quality. But those kinds of technical issues are likely to affect rankings on a daily basis.
A broad core algorithm update is generally focused on relevance factors.
In general, the reason is because the new algorithm determines that another site is more original or relevant for the search query.
How to Tell if a Site Will Not Recover on Next Update?
Sites that suffer a collapse of rankings higher than 70% of traffic more from Google updates are likely suffering from a profound issue. While it's possible these sites could be suffering as a false positive to the algorithm, it is likelier that there are important quality issues to look at it.
Know When to Fix Your Site
If your site does not recover within the first fifteen days after a broad core algorithm update, you should look into diagnosing site problems.
Alternatively you can wait until the next core algorithm update to see if your rankings return. But that’s not an ideal scenario as that does not happen to the majority of sites.
False Positives and Algorithm Dial-backs are Real
If you have lost a percentage of rankings because of Google updates, it is possible that your site is suffering from a false positive and that rankings may return. But don't wait too long before taking action in the hopes that your site will recover on its own as that is not generally the norm.
So if your traffic drop was due to an algorithm change and does not revert, what can you do?
Google’s guidance and BrightEdge best practices are consistent:
- Increase your content production cadence of blogs, pages, FAQs, glossary, and videos to try to offset the lost traffic
- Continue to focus on high-quality content
- Be authoritative, deep, and relevant, target over 1000 words per piece and preferably over 2000 words
- Be original, fresh, accurate, and current
- Build multiple pieces in a content silo and internally link them together
- Be well liked and linked to internally, externally, and socially
- Work on page load speed until you get to 95 score
- Reduce the bounce rate of people landing on your site
- Provide an excellent customer experience and site performance
- Consider using schema markup, which Google has been promoting since 2011 and people are starting to report positive rank and traffic impact from schema